A Man’s Guide to Miscarriage

How to help your wife and get over the loss of an unborn child.

The first miscarriage occurred in December, shortly before my wife’s birthday. The second miscarriage happened in May 2011, at the start of Memorial Day weekend, and lasted a long 72 hours till Monday.

As a culture, we don’t talk much about miscarriages.

There is the sense that because there was never a baby to hold that there is nothing to grieve. So when the second miscarriage happened, and we started dealing with the psychological ramifications of losing two pregnancies, we didn’t have anywhere to go.

Some close friends and family helped afterward, people who suffered their own miscarriages and knew it was difficult. But mostly, we were on our own.

My wife, Lisa, cried a lot.

Me? Normally, I cry all the time. Episodes of Parenthood, the sight of my family enjoying themselves, thinking about my wedding day, I could go on and on about the sentiments that can set me off. I’m not John Boehner. I hold it together in front of company and anticipate that if called upon during a Senate proceeding I will be able to refrain from weeping all over the microphone and the text of my prepared remarks. But in private, when it comes to tears, I am lavish and spend them freely. And yet, in response to miscarriage, I couldn’t muster up a single, salty drop.

For a while, Lisa merely asked: “Have you cried?”

After a few more weeks of her wallowing in a funk while I sat stoically by her side, however, she started to raise a fuss. “Why won’t you cry with me?” Lisa asked.

She clearly needed me to, but I still couldn’t do it.

I told her, and I still think this is true, that I couldn’t cry because I could see how badly she was hurting and every piece of me seemed to rally around that fact. She was so down that all the facts of my biology forced me up.

I am writing this, mostly, because there is so little public discussion of miscarriage, and I wanted to share some of the best observations I’ve run across, made by myself and others, with other men, in case they go through this.

1. Normal is whatever your wife says it is. It is difficult, if not impossible, to know exactly what one miscarriage is like for an expectant mother, let alone two. So, if she isn’t having suicidal thoughts—in which case a professional would be necessary—then your job is to support her wherever she’s at. I had more than a few nights where I was tired of sitting in grim silence, not laughing at sitcoms, and watching my wife breathe deep and let out long, shuddering sighs. I sat there, anyway, and held her hand.

2. Be aware of how traumatic a miscarriage is. If the pregnancy was planned or at all embraced, your wife has been having happy fantasies about delivering a baby. Now the miscarriage is forcing her—possibly through physical contractions similar to those that occur during the delivery of a baby—to shed blood and tissue. Watching Lisa endure that was one of the worst events of my life.

3. Just ask her what she needs. I say this because my wife, all along, had some sense of how she might heal herself. She was nearing 40 by then, and I had already crossed that barrier. We didn’t have much time.

In fact, even though she was still depressed, and even though both of us were beginning to regard a pregnancy diagnosis as the immediate precursor to a miserable end, we were already trying again. For several months, in fact, we tried—joylessly, hesitantly, and without result.

We felt, by this time, like we had entered a barren place. And while I still wasn’t crying, I will say the entire world looked different to me—all mindless biology.

We talked, from time to time, about how funerals are only rarely conducted after miscarriages and neither of us felt like asking family and friends to turn up for that. The loss from a miscarriage simply isn’t regarded as public. The sense of possibility we felt at her pregnancy was private—a drama going on in our heads. And so Lisa suggested we do something, just the two of us: a private ceremony.

We spent a little time online, looking for advice, and found next to nothing.

Remember, miscarriage is a personal loss. So there was no well-described ritual for us to grab onto, just plaintive little voices, crying out from relatively obscure Internet message boards, about services they invented.

We took several weeks, still preparing ourselves psychologically, I think, to create our own. And when we were ready, we found a secluded spot along the Schuylkill, and we read out loud from letters we’d written to the babies. We wrote in magical terms, apologizing to the babies in case we had scared them away, expressing our confusion at why they left, promising to do our best to be good parents if they returned.

Then we burned the letters, and we caught the ashes in a coffee can.

I don’t remember exactly what we wrote, but I see those papers burning vividly, the black smoke rising in the air and carrying far more away than wood pulp and ink.

The next day, we took the ashes and planted them in front of our house with flower bulbs Lisa bought.

The next month we were pregnant.

With twins.

We got lucky.